Yucca Mountain Repository Takes Another Step Forward

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Publication date: 
9 September 2008

Yesterday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced its determination that the construction license application submitted by the Department of Energy for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository was "sufficiently complete." This finding allows a review process to start which is expected to take up to four years.

DOE submitted an 8,600 page construction license application to the Commission on June 3 (more here  .)  Submission of the application followed a $10 billion, twenty-year examination of Yucca Mountain as the site of the nation's first national geological repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.  Yucca Mountain is approximately 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The NRC's determination that the application was sufficiently complete and thereby docketed allows  about one hundred Commission employees in Maryland, Nevada, and Texas to start the full technical review of the application.  It is important to note that in its September 8 announcement, the NRC states: "Docketing the application does not indicate whether the Commission will approve or reject the construction authorization for the repository, nor does it preclude the Commission or the agency staff from requesting additional information from DOE during the course of its comprehensive technical review."  The Commission's staff also reviewed DOE's Environmental Impact Statement and recommended its adoption with the addition of supplemental information on groundwater analyses.  The Statement can be viewed here.

The Federal Register will carry a notice of the docketing of the construction application, the text of which is available at here.   A later notice will outline how interested parties can request an adjudicatory hearing before the Commission's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.

Congress set a three-year deadline for the review of the construction application, with a one-year extension (four years in all.)  NRC has advised that this deadline can be met only if sufficient appropriations are made.

The Commission states that a construction license will be issued "only  if it concludes from its investigations that the repository would meet its reasonable expectation that the safety and health of workers and the public would be protected."  Toward the end of the construction license application review period, it is anticipated that DOE will request a license for the repository to actually receive and possess high-level radioactive waste.

There were no surprises in reactions to the NRC's docketing of the application.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), a steadfast opponent of the repository stated:

"While we were hopeful the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would reject Yucca Mountain's license application, the latest development was a formality we expected.  As the NRC reviews the application over the next four or more years, I am confident the commissioners will see the same bad information and evidence of mismanagement Nevadans already have and will reject the Energy Department's plan to make Nevada the nation's nuclear dumping ground.  Yucca Mountain is not only  a dangerous proposition for the people of Nevada, it's a risky plan for every community in the country that would have the waste transported through their cities and towns, which is why I will continue my work to kill the proposed dump once and for all."

Nevada's other senator, John Ensign (R), declared:

“There can be no question that the citizens of Nevada are opposed to Yucca Mountain and the [congressional] delegation is fighting hard to ensure that the DOE’s proposal to make our state a dumping ground for the nation’s nuclear waste is dead.  This latest announcement by the NRC that they will docket the application for Yucca Mountain is merely a formality.  This next step will consist of several years of review by the NRC, and I am confident that during this time, the red flags for this proposal will become even more apparent and will result in the NRC’s rejection of the DOE proposal. I fully expect that the risks associated with moving forward with Yucca Mountain will far outweigh any convincing argument on behalf of the DOE.   During these next few years, I urge Nevadans to continue voicing their opposition to Yucca Mountain by signing the petition on my website, and I will continue to work diligently to ensure that Yucca Mountain is and remains dead.”

Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) also issued a statement opposing the Yucca Mountain repository.

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman released the following statement:

“This is a significant step forward in solving the nation’s problem of disposing of spent nuclear fuel and high-level nuclear waste currently sitting at 121 temporary locations in 39 states across the country.  I am confident the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s rigorous review process will validate that the Yucca Mountain repository will safely store this waste in a manner that is most protective of human health and the environment.  As energy demand in the United States grows, the expansion of commercial nuclear power will be the key to providing the large amounts of emissions-free base load power we need, and the establishment of the Yucca Mountain repository is an important step toward enabling that expansion to occur.”

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